Toward more equitable admissions

Ben Gebre-Medhin, Assistant Professor of Sociology

By Keely Savoie Sexton 

In a bid to make their admissions processes more equitable, many colleges and universities have stopped requiring standardized testing, because student scores are strongly tied to their socioeconomic status. 

But Benjamin Gebre-Medhin, assistant professor of sociology, recently co-authored a study that suggests that eliminating test requirements is only the beginning of making college admissions more equitable. 

Gebre-Medhin and the research team used computational text analysis to determine the relationship between essay content and household income. They found that essay content was even more strongly associated with household income than SAT scores.

“Our findings lead us to conclude that doing away with standardized testing, while a potentially laudable step that some pioneering colleges like Mount Holyoke have taken, can only go so far toward realizing a truly equitable admissions process,” said Gebre-Medhin.

A number of news outlets have covered this research, including The Economist and Fox News. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal used the findings to argue that basing college admissions on “‘soft’ rather than numerical criteria won’t be more equitable or progressive.” This interpretation, Gebre-Medhin believes, misconstrues the struggle for fairness and equity in college admissions.

“Any meaningful admissions reform must acknowledge the powerful and pervasive manner in which family resources and privilege condition access to the things that are valued in the academy,” he said. 

“Earning a college degree is an important step toward economic security in the contemporary economy. Until well-resourced, affordable and high-quality post-secondary education is broadly accessible to all qualified students in America, conditions of scarcity are likely to intensify inequality no matter what measures of merit are used in college admissions.”

Related News

This is a stock image of a dolphin swimming.

A deeper dive

Mount Holyoke researcher Patrica Brennan’s research found that dolphin clitorises have more in common with the human organ than previously known.

Two women on split screen staring into the camera, with the CNN logo in the lower right corner

Cruz discusses vaccination on “Amanpour”

Carmen Yulín Cruz, Weissman Fellow in Leadership at Mount Holyoke, discussed Puerto Rico’s high vaccination rate on “Amanpour.” 

 Paola Granados ’22 and Maya Mauroof ’22 both participated in the Graduate Institute in Geneva Institute program.

Toward a global future

Mount Holyoke’s joint degree program in Geneva gives students on-the-ground experience in international work and a graduate degree.

Valerie Barr

Diversifying computer science

Mount Holyoke professor Valerie Barr ’77 is a recipient of an NSF grant that funds a multi-institution collaboration toward diversity in computer science.

Teresa Herd

Chaotic planetary systems no place for life

New research hints at planetary chaos in some solar systems, which may be incompatible with life, according to Mount Holyoke’s Thomas Burbine.

Find more stories >